Pirates of the CaribbeanPirates of the Caribbean - the Curse of the Black Pearl on Blu-ray disc

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By Jim Bray

Who'd have thunk that you could make a good movie out of a theme park ride?

But Disney did it. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is an entertaining and ripping yarn that's suitable for all ages. And as usual, Disney has turned the movie into a very good disc that not only sports great audio and video, but has enough extras to choke a, well, seahorse - so much so that this is a two disc Blu-ray, which is unusual these days.

Johnny Depp gets top billing as Captain Jack Sparrow, pirate and rogue - and an all 'round nice guy compared with the crew who mutinied against him and left him to die on an isolated island.

But it's really Orlando Bloom who stars, with Keira Knightly. Bloom is Will Turner, a blacksmith with some special DNA even he doesn't realize he has, while Knightley is his love interest - the governor's daughter he's known since he was a nipper.

Depp gets the best lines and nearly steals the show, though his performance isn't as delicious as Geoffrey Rush's characterization of Barbossa, the leader of the pirates who done Captain Jack wrong.

Anyway, in his quest for retribution, Captain Jack recruits Bloom and Knightley (well, perhaps recruit isn't the most accurate term) and they sally forth to recapture the infamous Black Pearl - Jack's former ship, now a ghost ship crewed by Barbossa and the rest of the mutineers.

And talk about a skeleton crew: the Black Pearl's men look normal, but are in fact cursed and are now in a state of eternal, undead damnation that reveals their true nature whenever moonlight strikes them. It's a neat concept, and very well executed: as the men are hit by moonlight they turn into skeletons - sometimes in the middle of a shot!

The performances are wonderful, the production values first rate, and the script is that of a terrific popcorn flick. The movie is a tad long, but there's certainly enough going on that you'll never get bored.

Pirates' success spawned two very forgettable sequels, but this one's the real deal and the only one of the trilogy that's really worthwhile. The second movie seemed more like a two and a half hour trailer for the third, while the third failed to recapture the magic of the first.

Still, Walt Disney would undoubtedly smile upon this production based on one of his earliest Disneyland theme park rides.

The original DVD featured excellent picture and sound, and the Blu-ray disc is no different. The 1080p picture is presented in its original widescreen glory of 2.35:1 and the picture is stunning. The screen lights up with a wonderfully deep and real picture that features rich contrast and dark, dark blacks. Colors are bright and rich and the detail is first rate. This can be used easily as a reference disc.

Audio, presented in 5.1 uncompressed PCM is also lovely to behold. It's loud and brash, but so's the movie and that makes it just right. I love uncompressed PCM tracks and wish there were more of them. The Dolby and dts versions are no slouches, but PCM is my favorite.

Here, the soundtrack makes excellent use of all 5.1 channels right from the opening scenes and that really sets the mood. But it also excels during the quieter scenes (listen for things such as wood creaking etc.) and the musical score joins the rest of the audio tracks in being dynamic and immersive. Even the dialogue stands out.

 Extras abound - nearly 13 hours of them, according to the packaging.  Disc one comes with three audio commentaries, one with director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp, another with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and stars Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport, and yet another featuring co-screenwriters Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert. This may be overkill, but who can complain about being given more than you expect?

 The first disc also has some trailers for other Disney Blu-rays.

There's plenty more on the second disc, though it's in standard definition.  There is a couple of documentaries, including "An Epic at Sea: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean," a nine-part (with a "Play All" option) symphony that's pretty good. "Fly on the Set" gives you more in depth info about some specific sequences: "The Town Attack," "Tortuga," "The Blacksmith Shop," "The Cave" and "Jack's Hanging."  

Then there are three Video Diaries, which give you first-person perspectives from cast and crew members such as producer Bruckheimer's still picture-based "Photo Diary" Lee Arenberg's ("Pintel") video diary and "Diary of a Ship" from the crew of the real ship that doubled for the H.M.S. Interceptor.

There are also enough deleted scenes to make you glad the movie didn't run any longer than its current 143 minutes, most of which appear to be existing scenes that merely ran longer. 

And there's more, including a look at the original theme park ride, a typical "Movie Showcase" of scenes you can use to wow your friends with your home theater's quality and a "Scoundrels of the Sea" game that lets the kiddies use the disc's branching capabilities to "customize" their own Pirates experience.

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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